Editorial: Get serious about underage drinking

Consequences of continued inaction are monumental and grave

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Zachery Brown of Moreau would have turned 17 years old on December 9.

He never made it.

He never got to start his sophomore year of high school. He’ll never go to the prom, graduate from college or get married. He’ll never see his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers win another Super Bowl.

He won’t get to open his Christmas presents this year, or any other year.

That’s because in August, 18-year-old Christopher Miranda decided to drink a lot of alcohol, drive really fast on a curvy road with Zachery and a 14-year-old in his car at 5:30 in the morning, and crash into a lamp post and some trees.

Zachery was pronounced dead at the scene.

How would you like to be in his parents right now? Or a sibling or a grandparent or a friend? 

For anyone who thinks underage drinking is a victimless crime, who think kids who don’t drink are dorks and that adults who rail against it are hypocritical fuddy-duddies who don’t remember what it was like to be young, this incident is but one stark reminder that we have to take this problem seriously.

Each year, excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youths each year. Even though it’s illegal to purchase alcohol under the age of 21, those age 12-20 drink 11 percent of the nation’s alcohol, most of it by binge drinking.

Well, you could say, it’s not harmful as long as they don’t drink and drive. You’d be wrong.

Underage drinking has far more reaching consequences than just car accidents.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the studies it cites, it is a proven fact that teens who drink alcohol are more likely to: have problems at school, including higher absences and bad grades; develop social problems such as fighting and not participating in activities; get into trouble with the law; abuse other drugs; attempt suicide; and have unwanted or unplanned sex.

As for the long-term effects, youths who drink before age 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse as adults than those who start drinking at age 21 or older, according to the CDC.

If you think we as a society have got this problem under control, think again.

Last week, more than a dozen kids in the Ballston area were arrested and charged in connection with a drunken underage drinking party on Thanksgiving weekend hosted by a kid whose parents weren’t home. The alcohol was allegedly supplied by a 25-year-old who apparently saw nothing wrong with providing alcohol to kids. In their drunken youthful reverie, the teens at the party did thousands of dollars in vandalism damage to the home where the party took place.

We wonder if the parents of all those kids who attended the party knew that there would be drinking there and whether they would have stopped their kids from attending if they had. The fact is, they didn’t do either.

In Niskayuna, parents, school officials, religious leaders, business leaders, law  enforcement, government officials, students and others have been out front battling the “high-drinking culture” among the community’s teens for years. They met recently as a group, at a meeting hosted by Niskayuna Community Action Program (N-CAP), to rededicate themselves to the effort and to try to leverage their resources and influence to curb the problem.

The people of Niskayuna are having the same tough conversations that citizens in other communities should be having and making the same plans that others should be making.

Admitting there’s a problem in the community and being honest and ambitious enough to address its causes — including confronting the adults complicit in underage drinking and drug use — is a big step in helping communities get this problem under control.

But it also will take a change in society’s attitude toward underage drinking to bring about real progress.

Recently, The Gazette received a letter to the editor from a Niskayuna man who identified himself as “a former student turned alcoholic.” In his letter, he praised the efforts of the local group to curb the community’s alcohol and drug problem and said they need to identify “serious high-risk behavior as opposed to harmless teenage fun.” In recalling his four years in school and his many “dazed and confused moments with my friends,” he called on “each parent and child to acknowledge and address the issue for themselves.”

The letter was written from Schenectady County jail, where the writer is an inmate.

We can no longer view underage drinking as a rite of passage. We can’t fall back on that tired old yarn that “if you’re old enough to fight for your country, you’re old enough to drink.” 

Society has developed a greater understanding of the impacts of underage drinking in the years since the last military draft. We have better science now. We have decades of reliable statistics. We have evidence of the harm it does to kids, both in short-term and the long-term.

If we don’t take it seriously, more kids will grow up to alcoholics. More will have legal and social problems. More kids will be at risk of being victims of sexual assault or of sexually assaulting someone. More of our children will drive drunk. More of them will never see their last birthday or open another Christmas gift.

The consequences of continued inaction on underage drinking are monumental and grave.

It’s time to reject this rite of passage for the sake of our children and our children’s future.

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